If you’re worried abut the security of the United States after President Donald Trump’s disgraceful dismissal of Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, you also need to look inside the U.S. government to examine the Trump hangers-on who are downgrading the professionalism of key government agencies.
For example, on Inauguration Day, according to Michael Lewis in his new book, “The Fifth Risk,” Mr. Trump, utterly unprepared for governing after a narrow victory, sent these folks to help run the Department of Agriculture: “A long-haul truck driver, a telephone company clerk, a gas company meter reader, a country club cabana attendant, a Republican National Committee intern and the owner of a scented candle company.”
Similar appointments of political faithful and lobbyists with scant knowledge or strong industry positions were made throughout the U.S. government, including in agencies responsible for nuclear waste, food safety and hurricane warnings. A 23-year-old Trump campaign worker was named deputy head of the opioid crisis office in the White House. These Trump lieutenants ordered data suppression throughout multiple agencies.
The dumbing down of the American government, a condition that starts at the top with a president who brags that he does not read books or need intelligence briefings, extends to Capitol Hill.
As the 116th Congress opens, look no further than the two most important committees on national security in the U. S. Senate.
Gone is the late John McCain, who chaired the Armed Services Committee for years with knowledge, deep experience in military matters and courage — and a readiness to stand up to Mr. Trump’s fanboy relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Also gone are smart, bipartisan ex-chairmen such as Republican John Warner and Democrats Carl Levin and Sam Nunn. Mr. Nunn worked with Republicans after the collapse of the Soviet Union to craft vital legislation on dismantling its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Now the chairman is 84-year-old James H. Inhofe of Oklahoma. Senator Inhofe’s own official biography says “our country is in the most threatened position in American history…” Really, Senator?
Has Mr. Inhofe forgotten the Cold War and the daily threat of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union? The gravity of the Cuban missile crisis? World War II, Pearl Harbor, the Depression, the 2008 financial meltdown?
Mr. Inhofe, who has called climate change “the greatest hoax,” is responsible for foisting on the government the services of Scott Pruitt, the disgraced former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and several former Inhofe aides, who have been able to trash dozens of environmental protections, including an order to roll back rules designed to protect 60 percent of the nation’s water bodies.
Like Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Inhofe has been accused of corrupt practices — buying large amounts of the stock of a giant defense contractor after urging Mr. Trump to increase the defense budget significantly. He sold the stock.
Another key Senate committee — the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — is being turned over to an equally unremarkable senator: Idaho Sen. James Risch, 75, a former governor who gained that position by appointment.
Another climate change denier and an A+ NRA supporter who “prayed” for the victims of the various shooting massacres but opposes background checks, Mr. Risch is an unabashed supporter of Mr. Trump.
Compare his credentials to his predecessors. Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana and chairman for two terms, worked tirelessly with Senator Nunn on nuclear dismantlement. Idaho Democrat Frank Church oversaw investigations of intelligence abuses. J. William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas, helped manage the Johnson administration’s misguided Gulf of Tonkin resolution but redeemed himself with careful, balanced explorations of the causes and mistakes of the Vietnam war. And Arthur Vandenberg, Republican of Michigan, was a moderate of the kind GOP leaders might seek out to regain respect for their party in the age of Mr. Trump.
At the end of World War II, Vandenberg delivered a courageous speech in which he declared that partisan politics “must stop at the water’s edge.” He went on to cooperate with President Truman in the establishment of the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — both linchpins of the Western alliance ever since.
And who is doing his utmost to undermine both organizations today, putting in grave question America’s national interests and international leadership? A Republican president: Donald J. Trump.
Frederic B. Hill was a former correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, and foreign affairs director for Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr., a Maryland Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also is co-editor, with Stephens Broening, on a book about The Baltimore Sun: “The Life of Kings.”